UPDATED 17:52 EST / JANUARY 23 2024

EMERGING TECH

Apple reportedly switches to less ambitious development roadmap for its electric car

Apple Inc.’s long-rumored electric car will launch later than originally planned and with a more limited feature set, Bloomberg reported today.

Reports that the company is working on an electric vehicle first emerged in 2015. That year, the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple had assigned hundreds of engineers to work on a project codenamed Titan. The goal of the initiative, the paper’s sources detailed, was to develop an autonomous electric car. 

Subsequent reports indicated that Apple was planning to use a vehicle design without a steering wheel or pedals. The company reportedly hoped to equip the car with Level 5 autonomy, or the ability to operate independently under all driving conditions. Nearly a decade after rumors of the project emerged, there are no vehicles on the market with Level 5 autonomy.

Today’s Bloomberg report indicates that Apple has switched to a less ambitious development roadmap. Instead of Level 5 autonomy, the company is now reportedly planning to equip its car with a less advanced set of automated navigation features dubbed Level 2+ autonomy. It’s unclear exactly what capabilities the vehicle’s navigation software will provide.

There are multiple Level 2 partly autonomous driving systems on the market, notably Tesla Inc.’s Autopilot and the Super Cruise platform General Motors Co. ships with some Cadillac vehicles. Both systems offer a so-called cruise control feature that can automatically match the speed of a vehicle to that of the surrounding traffic. They also offer lane centering, as well as an automated lane changing capability.

Installing partly or fully autonomous driving software in a car requires equipping it with specialized processors. Several chipmakers, including Apple supplier Qualcomm Inc., offer such processors. In 2022, Qualcomm inked a deal with GM to supply two chips for an enhanced version of the automaker’s Super Cruise partly autonomous driving system.

Despite the availability of third-party processors, Apple may opt to design custom silicon for its rumored electric car. The company ships custom chips with most of its products including its flagship iPhones and the recently introduced Vision Pro mixed reality headset. Using an internally developed processor design would add complexity to Apple’s car project, but could allow it to more closely align the silicon with its requirements.

The iPhone maker will likely rely on partners to make the car’s other components. According to today’s Bloomberg report, Apple has held talks with several potential manufacturing partners in Europe. about its revised development roadmap and Level 2+ autonomy plans. It’s believed the company hopes to eventually roll out more advanced autonomous driving features, but it’s unclear when.

As of late 2022, Apple was reportedly planning to launch its car in 2026. Today’s report indicates the launch date has been pushed by at least two years. In that time frame, automakers with existing Level 2 driving systems will likely enhance their autonomous navigation features, which could create tougher competition for Apple’s upcoming car when it launches.

Photo: Pixabay

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